SECTION S / SaTurday, aprIl 30, 2011
IntervIew the new executive director
of ArtsnB Akoulina Connell S2
theAtre Inside the actors studio with
Saint John actress Suzy Kimball S3
The road to
Saint John’s Acre Architects aims to revitalize
comedian/actor Shaun Majumder’s hometown along
with the prestige of East Coast architecture with a big
dreams in a tiny outport town. Story by Mike Landry
InSIde: StAte OF the Art S2 / COLIn SMIth S2 / new BrUnSwICK’S reAdInG S6 / nyt CrOSSwOrd S7 / SIGhtInGS S8 / the etIQUette GUy S8
From Grand Falls and Pocologan to
Miramichi and Hartland, popular storyteller David Goss has travelled his home
province collecting over 45 stories of
offbeat New Brunswick history and
Thursday, May 5
West Branch Library
Saint John, NB
OTHER UPCOMING EVENTS
Saturday, May 7
Friday, May 13
Saturday, May 14
Bathurst Book Gallery
Friday, June 3
St. Croix Public Library
St. Stephen, NB
s4 / Saturday, april 30, 2011
Saturday, april 30, 2011 / s5
Majumder, left. and Kopp examine dory models in Burlington with project manager Peter Blackie.
the project isn’t just
majumder manor for him.
the project is burlington.
the project is newfoundland.”
Acre Architects’ model for Majumder Manor. Photos: Kâté Braydon/telegraPh-Journal
Above: a conceptual mock-up imaages for Majumder Manor. Right: Kopp, left, with Adair, Majumder and Shelby Fenner. Photos: suBmitted
Like no place you’ve ever been
Saint John’s Acre Architects takes its inspiration from historical East Coast architecture and culture for
Majumder Manor – its first big project in Atlantic Canada with a sustainable vision. Story by Mike Landry
The cameras are in their faces and everyone is asking
Stephen Kopp and Monica Adair what they think.
It’s the Saint John architects’ first time visiting the
tiny town of Burlington, Newfoundland, on the
North-Western Baie-Verte peninsula. It’s shockingly
small, and all they’ve seen are a couple houses with
vinyl siding. But in less than a day, they’ve fallen
under the spell of the landscape’s rugged natural
beauty and its gregarious and generous inhabitants.
Burlington is a 4-wheeler, Ski-Doo kind of town.
An old outport, many of its 350-some residents now
leave to work in far-away places like Fort McMurray,
Alberta – or,in Shaun Majumder’s case,Los Angeles.
The former This Hour Has 22 Minutes comedian and
Detroit 1-8-7 star, Majumder has brought Kopp and
Adair to his hometown on this frozen mid-January
day not only to see what they think of the town, but
what they think Burlington can become.
Majumder has hired Kopp and Adair to design
Majumder Manor – an eco-luxury inn. Kopp and
Adair are the brains behind Acre Architects, which
was included in the prestigious 2010 and ’11 Twenty
+ Change biennial exhibition and publication dedicated to promoting Canada’s top emerging designers.
“The project isn’t just Majumder Manor for him,”
Adair says over veggie eggs Benedict in uptown Saint
John.“The project is Burlington. The project is Newfoundland.That’s what we like about it,too.”
It takes an hour and a half to drive from the Deer
Lake airport to Burlington. Majumder rolls down
his window despite the January cold to say hello and
eyebrow at the idea of bottled moose meat, it doesn’t
take 10 minutes for an attendee to run home to grab
Kopp a bottle. This is Burlington – where folks in SkiDoo suits at shed parties burst into song to fellow
Burlingtoner Rex Goudie’s guitar in between sips of
homemade raspberry wine and Budweiser.
Kopp and Adair,who have been married since 2008,
sustainability goes beyond the environment.
if you’re going to build something in a
community, you can’t be like the olympics – just
building something and then abandoning it.”
shout“What’s shakin’bacon?!”to everyone.
Spotting the mayor he shouts,“Hey, George! We
need a meeting! Get everyone together. Get all the
councilors. 7 o’clock!” And, sure enough, the next
evening there’s 100 sandwiches waiting in the town
hall kitchen and half of Burlington is waiting to hear
the next step of Majumder’s vision.
After the meeting, when Kopp raises a questioning
spend the night in one of Majumder’s father’s bedrooms. Until Majumder Manor is built, staying at
someone’s house is the only option when visiting.
The Acre’s drawn from all of this for Majumder
Manor.Its a“Newfoundland organic”approach.
“I know there’s the desire for the ski lodge,” Adair
says.“But, in a way, (Majumder Manor) is kind of a
Adair and Kopp discuss Majumder Manor at Acre Architects’ Saint John offices, with clipboards to organize projects. Photo: Kâté Braydon/telegraPh-Journal
“Newfoundland building has been honest and
straightforward,” Kopp adds.“Back in the day they
used wood clapboard with piers to set it on, but now
they go down to Home Hardware or Home Depot
and vinyl siding is available. So the town looks like
that. What we’re trying to do is think about when
tourists come to towns – What do they take pictures
of? It’s not the vinyl-sided house. They go to the old
fishing stages that are tilted and weathered. We’re
not trying to imitate, but say, other than what Home
Depot sells,what is it that makes this town proud?”
The project is proceeding fast, and the goal is to
break ground this August. Just last week, Kopp and
Adair were in Newfoundland again meeting with
contractors and Majumder. A concept design has
been presented to the town, but schematics are just
Meanwhile, Majumder’s solicited his best friend
Peter Estevez to document the whole saga for a
documentary series for the W Network. Majumder
has also set out on his This Tour Has 22 Cities ... The
Road to Majumder Manor comedy tour across Canada. He’ll perform Fredericton Tuesday and Moncton on Wednesday.
It would seem unreal if the project hadn’t been like
this from the very start.
The Acre received the request for proposal in November, and weren’t sure if it was a joke or not. The
subject in the email was an obscure “Your name
came up” and the request contained none of the
usual tedious, detailed specifics. Instead, there was
just a picture of Majumder and an essay about his
town that began with “I’m a dreamer” and ended
with the question“Can you build a building here?”
“Basically, if you could put a bunch of colours and
feelings together,it was that,” Adair says.
“It was really crazy. But the thing is we love clients
like that. We love clients that are visionaries. A good
client is a good project. It’s not the budget. It’s nothing like that.So,we said we’ve got to give it a go,like a
total shot in the dark,right?”
Talking on the phone from just outside Lewisporte
Junction on the road to St. John’s, Majumder jokes
all he needs to stay focused on the project is a steady
diet of bananas,bamboo root,Red Bull with caffeineinfused Excedrin and, turning serious in tone, his
complete trust in the sensibility of The Acre.
“We went through all these different people, but
Monica and Stephen, in just one document, had the
heart and soul of the project,” Majumder says.
The heart and soul of Majumdeer Manor can be
summed up in one word – authenticity. Even though
there’s plenty of laughter and jokes when Majumder
is around –Adair laughed so much during their first
meeting the muscles in her neck hurt – sincerity is
structuring Majumder Manor.
The Acre prioritizes the process and it “never has
enough time to be inauthentic,” Adair says. For
Majumder,authenticity is the core of his career.
“It all starts from – What’s your intention? My intention is to be authentic, to do the right thing and
to make sure I’m not motivated by something that’s
material, greedy or fame- or ego-driven. If that drives
and motivates me I’ll find limitations more quickly.”
To be built on the site of Majumder’s old school
house, Majumder Manor is inspired by both Burlington’s landscape and people. It is to be built on piers,
rather into the rock,and features a variety of entrances
in homage to the exploring Majumder so loved to
do as a kid. The five rooms will have uniform views.
And to make the community welcome, the building
is open. Stairs and various levels are used instead of
walls. The kitchen is open with a large dining area and
a room to hold‘shed party’events.
Majumder loves how the design emphasizes the
unique interaction between people in Burlington.
“You can have (5-Star luxury) anywhere, but you
can’t have this experience everywhere, and we need to
build a structure that acknowledges and in fact embraces that. (The Acre) have done a great job in working
with us to build a structure to facilitate that.”
The project is meant to be a lynchpin to inspire other
locals to rethink and capitalize on what makes their
So, as much as Majumder Manor is a project of love
with his fiancée Shelby Fenner – Majumder envisions
finishing the project by getting married at the inn
– and an homage to his deceased native Burlington
mom,his main motivation is something else.
“We were down on the property where I was raised
yesterday. I was just standing there and it took me
back immediately to ‘Wow, this is where it all started,
so it makes perfect sense to put this building back into
the town where it all started for me as a kid.’ It was really powerful and beautiful. It makes sense and mom
would definitely be proud.”
As if the pressure of fulfilling someone’s dream
wasn’t enough, Majumder Manor is also The Acre’s
first big project in Atlantic Canada with a sustainable
vision. But Adair says that pressure exists all the time
in architecture. And Kopp says more important than
their own taxed work schedules is the opportunity to
give an Atlantic Canadian architecture a voice on a national and international scale.
The Acre earned the opportunity on the strength of
its concept of the inn being“Burlington’s kitchen.” The
closest restaurant is more than an hour away, so there
was an immediate niche to fill.
“It’s one thing to be interested in remote places ...
(but) what makes something luxurious for us was the
idea of food,conversation and people.”
Majumder was also won over by The Acre’s sustainability concerns. Rather than focus on green technology, The Acre is designing passive elements – reducing
the ecological footprint through smart design. They’re
trying to use as much daylight as possible, orienting
the building east-west for the most solar gain, using
heavy mass flooring to absorb and retain heat, looking at geothermal energy possibilities,using local mills
for the wood source, building a root cellar to preserve
foods and aiming to harvest wind for energy. The
building has an ambitious target of Net-Zero Energy.
“The big thing was that sustainability goes beyond
the environment. If you’re going to build something
in a community, you can’t be like the Olympics – just
building something and then abandon it. It must be
sustainable also for the economy and the people.”
It’s an untraditional approach, something highlighted when Majumder spoke about the project on
CBC Radio’s Q. Host Jian Ghomeshi had trouble comprehending how a luxury inn could be a charitable
venture.But,then again,Majumder is a dreamer.
“It’s interesting because you find a balance of yes
everything is possible but,” Majumder says,“this is project is only possible because of a very careful slowly
moving forward thoughtful process of bringing the
right people together.“
In all, Majumder’s dream team includes his fiancée,
food and beverage consultant Sarah Evans, Peter Estevez and his crew, The Acre, project manager Peter
Blackie and many more.
The Acre will enlist
help, too, from John
Leroux and its larger collective of
“ R u ra l c o m munities with
definitely a huge
part of where culture is born. It is where
music, dance and storytelling were all born.
That’s an important thing
to remember. Urban centres are swallowing up these
beautiful, beautiful human experiences.
“And that’s what it is, human connection: people looking at each
other in the eye, opening their doors,
protecting each other, taking care of
each other,feeding each other.”
And this learning, Adair says, is the
heart of The Acre.
“Our projects are about learning
about people, learning about ourselves and our clients,” she says. “I
want to be a little bit more like Shaun.
His ego doesn’t seem to get in the way
much. Comedy puts you at such a
risky place and this point of failure
all the time and you put yourself out
“It’s a great skill he has – to be able
to bring out that same approach in
Mike Landry is arts and culture
editor at the Telegraph-Journal.
He can be reached at [email protected]
Monica Adair, left, Stephen Kopp and Shaun Majumder stand on precarious scaffolding to see the potential second floor view of Majumder Manor. Photo: suBmitted